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Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko in Japan
Image: Reuters/T. Hanai

Japan remembers tsunami and Fukushima victims

March 11, 2015

On the fourth anniversary of the Japan quake and tsunami, the country has remembered the thousands who died. The subsequent Fukushima disaster sparked a crisis that left the country at odds over nuclear power.

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Following the wail of tsunami alarm sirens at 2:46 p.m. (0546 UTC), the exact moment a 9.0-magnitude undersea quake hit the northeast coast of Japan on March 11, 2011, a moment of silence fell across Japan on Wednesday.

Citizens held remembrance ceremonies in towns and cities around the devastated area on Japan's northeast coast, with victims and volunteers seen joining hands in prayer or bowing their heads during the national minute of silence.

In Japan's capital, Tokyo, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko also led tributes to those who died in Japan's worst peace-time disaster.

"We can never forget the image of the terrifying tsunami we saw on television that day," Akihito said at the ceremony.

"The situation surrounding disaster victims remains severe," he added. "By being aware of the pain and sorrow of those affected by the disaster, and simultaneously providing health-care and moral support, we must accelerate the reconstruction process."

Visible scars

What has become known as the Fukushima disaster began with an earthquake magnitude 9-quake which struck roughly 70 kilometers (43 miles) east of Oshika Peninsula at a depth of 24 kilometers.

Fukushima wreckage
More than 400,000 buildings and homes were destroyed by the tsunamiImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Some 20 minutes after the earthquake hit, a tsunami swept across coastal towns from the northern island of Hokkaido to the southern island of Okinawa, destroying more than 400,000 buildings and homes, and killing 15,891people. According to Japan's Police Agency, another 2,584 are still listed as missing. Human remains continue to be found.

A nuclear disaster compounded the horror when tsunami waves reached the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, triggering reactor meltdowns and explosions.

Despite the billions poured into reconstruction efforts by the Japanese government, scars on the landscape remain visible and the tragedy continues to wreak misery for many.

The nuclear debate

Following the nuclear meltdown, Japan's entire stable of nuclear reactors were gradually switched off. But almost half a decade on, Japan is considering whether it should recommence its pursuit of nuclear energy - especially given its continued struggle to decommission the Fukushima reactors that are still inundated by contaminated water.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government and much of industry is eager to turn nuclear reators back on, largely due to the high costs of dollar-denominated fossil fuels to an economy with a plunging currency, the public has been more skeptical.

Two nuclear power plants have received official approval from a nuclear agency to reopen but will not be turned back on until local leaders also give their approval following public debate.

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